Peace y’all this is Mack and I’m an editor at hood communist and I want to welcome you to hood communist radio!
Assata Shakur once told us that “only a fool lets somebody tell him who his enemy is”. She told us that you should “never let your enemies choose your enemies for you.” Yet, time and time again, as we start to sharpen the contradictions of neocolonialism and imperialism, this is always the case for Africa. Surface level engagement of our home leaves us susceptible to Western interpretations of a continent they wish to continue to exploit, because truthfully, not enough of us know what is happening and most importantly, why. What we do know is, the West stirs up the unrest, stages assassinations and coups, occupies the land militarily and chooses for us which Africans are “good” and which Africans are “dangerous”.
In this episode, we sit down with a baddd African and long- time organizer Obi Egbuna Jr. to re-examine Zimbabwe, the politics of Southern Africa and Robert Mugabe a bit closer, pushing back on the narratives that have long existed as a way to sustain the ongoing sanctions against the nation.
None of us are free until Africa is free, y’all. With that said, lets get into it!
Onyesowu Alright African. So, yeah, I was hoping that we could just have a casual conversation about you, your work, about Zimbabwe, because there’s a lot of lies I hear about Zimbabwe, about the connection to Cuba in Africa. Hope that sounds good.
Brother Obi OK.
Onyesowu So why don’t we start off by talking about you? Who is Obi Egbuna Jr.? How did you get into this work?
Brother Obi: Well, 31 years now, and it’s been around me my whole life. My first— of course there are some family ties and blood ties in relationship to the work. For those who don’t know, I’m the son, the only son, of one of the co-founders of the Black Panther Movement in London and the Black Power Movement in London, Obi Egbuna Sr.; the world renowned playwright, author, novelist and freedom fighter. So it’s been around me my whole life. The first quality exposure that I got was at the age of nine. In 1978, I marched on African Liberation Day in Washington, DC and so through that process, getting exposure, it’s around you every day. So the interest was there. The intellectual curiosity was there, but not the majority.
So the maturity or mature exposure, if you will, came around in the 11th grade. I had this experience in a history class. And this was back at a time where you used to have to stand up before the class and do current events. So the day before it was my turn to go, my teacher at the time said, “and Obi is going to talk to us tomorrow about the ‘mad man’ Mu’ammar Gaddafi and what a threat to the world that he is.” And so the very next day, I got up before the class, and at that point in my life, I had a reputation for being the class clown or one of the class clowns. So I said, “Um yeah, he’s a friend of my family,” and the teacher was like, “That’s not, that’s not funny.” And, you know, my classmates were laughing and I said, “No, I’m dead serious. He has ties to my family.” And she was like, “go and sit- down because you think I’m playing and you get an F for the day.” So I spoke with her after class and I said, “ no. In the mid 1970s, my father went to Libya.” And the reason that he went because at one point, in the 1970s, the late leader of the Jamahiriya, the revolutionary Jamahiriya, the great freedom fighter, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was calling for one centralized media on the African Continent— radio station, television station— that he felt could be a significant interest in the decolonization process. So, um, of course I didn’t know all of that then. But I remember when I was very young the Libyan embassy closed in Washington, D.C. I believe in 1980, but they just used to come by and check and see if we were OK. And so my father had a relationship. And the story goes that Gaddafi was an admirer of the Black Power Movement and the Black Panther Party in London.
So that’s when I realized that things could be different for me. But by the time I turned about 18-19 years old, my aspirations to be a law-abiding citizen in the U.S. capitalist system, that basically died. So I said, let me go ahead and really go beyond curiosity and just find out what Osagyefo, Dr Kwami Nkrumah, called the revolutionary path. What is it all about?
So I just began to go back and circle the wagon, If you will? Look at the books that were on the shelf, look at the pictures that were all around the house, ask questions about these things. And so I told my dad that I talked to some friends of mine in school and we wanted to start an organization with a political thrust. Prior to that, I had been in the pre-law club, I had went to join the African Student Union on my campus. But most African Student Unions and African Student Associations, they –which we’ll get into later— Osagyefo, Dr Kwame Nkrumah is today is his birthday. That’s why I’m so happy to be here. He’s the founder of the African Student Association in the United States and because of his political trajectory, imperialism made sure that it was turned into a caricature of itself. So once I saw that the African Student Union at my school, the University of the District of Columbia, was primarily into just showing the African personality in the most social context—”This is how we dance.” “This is the food we eat.” “These are our names.”— I realized that I needed something more that didn’t satisfy me intellectually. It didn’t satisfy me politically, and I thought it was out of step historically. So I had hooked up with some friends of mine who were trying to do something different. And we came up with the idea we had done some studying, and Washington, D.C. is the home to the Black United front of 1968, which was strategically installed right around the assassination of Dr. King and the peak of the urban rebellions in the 1960s, where between 1965 and 1968, 289 cities were burned to the ground in this country where our slogan became, “Burn, baby burn.” So we said we needed to create an African student youth united front and that would serve as a catalyst to get our traditional organized formations, wherever they fall on the spectrum, to finally have a united front so we could see what type of vehicle that could be in the intensification of our resistance.
So we created something called the United Pan-African Front. It became the Pan-African Student Youth United Front after we had hooked up with some organizers in the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party the following year. And then we had a conference paying homage to SNCC Easter weekend of 1991 at Harvard University. And students came from all over the country, other parts of the Diaspora, some parts of Africa. We created the Pan-African Student Youth United Front. And that wasn’t something that was able to be maintained. So we realized that we needed to be a monolith. So we started the Pan-African Student United Front and that went from about 1994 to about 2000.
And then we were the Pan-African Liberation Organization until about 2007. So you’re talking about a group and a core group of young people who started organizing in their late teens and early 20s and maintained until they were about in their 30s and what have you. And that goes against the grain because we know that still, one thing that we know, and this is what we used to say, “your relationship to the means of production changes all the time, but the one thing that never changes is your historical responsibility to your people.”
Some of us work full time. Some of us work part time. Some of us don’t work at all. We still have to struggle for the people. Some of us have a household full of children. Some of us have a single child, some of us have no child. But history obligates us to organize on the front line. So we knew that. So going from student to the exploited workforce was not a difficult transition for us. So it was very important during that period. And then, um, once we got in our late 20s and early 30s, we recognized, we went back and looked at the annals of our illustrious history and we recognized that many of the great fighters that we celebrate had skills that played a very crucial role in their ability to organize.
George Padmore was a journalist. Daisy Bates was a journalist. Ida B. Wells was a journalist. Jay Rogers was a journalist. David Maphgumzana Sibeko was a journalist. Mangaliso Sobukwe was a teacher. Marva Collins was a teacher. Mary McLeod Bethune was a teacher. So we realized that we had to develop some skills that would give our organizational efforts a boost. So through that process, now being twenty years removed from that, I can say with all humility and all certainty that the weapons that we bring to the front line today in 2021, we are.
I’m a children’s playwright and from that comes The Mass Emphasis Children’s History and Theater Company, The mass Emphasis Positive Action and Creativity Youth Brigade and coming soon on November 1st, the Mass Emphasis Children’s History and Navigational Institute, which will be an online effort to teach African history to African children worldwide. And we have 25 plays to name. Journalists in the tradition of Edward Wilmot Blyton, and in the tradition of Padmore, in the tradition of Shirley Graham Dubois, I have the honor of being the first U.S. correspondent to Zimbabwe’s national newspaper in the history of the country, the 41 year history of the country. And I’ve written over 400 articles since 2006 about Zimbabwe, and just two weeks ago I made a verbal agreement to write a book using those articles as a backdrop.
So after my father’s book comes out at the end of this year, which is going to be a reissue thanks to Black Classic Press, Destroy This Temple, which captures the essence of the Black Power Movement in London and captures the essence of the Black Panther Party in London. The book will be reissued, originally released in 1972. I had the honor of writing the new introduction for it, so once that’s been out for a while, we’re going to take our shot at writing their book about our experience in Zimbabwe, which represents work from 2002 to the present day right now. Right this minute, right this second. And then, um, and then of course, we’ve been teaching and teaching in the tradition of Mangaliso Sobukwe, teaching in the tradition of Robert Mugabe, teaching in the tradition of Nannie Helen Burroughs, teaching in the tradition of Anna Julia Cooper. So I’ve been an African history teacher for 31 years and I teach K through 12. And occasionally, when people think I’m intelligent enough, I get a chance to talk to college students. Not that much these days, though. I like to keep it with the children so that when they get to college-age and they might be in Dr Greg Carr’s class, or they might be in Dr. Jared Ball’s class, or they might be in Dr. James Pope’s class, my good brother and friend, Dr. Robert Wyatt at Alabama State University, Dr. Melanie Bradshaw at Oklahoma University, and the different Dr. Ray Winbush at Morgan State University—Many of our contemporaries who are teaching at a collegiate level— these children who we’ve had from five years old, four years old, in certain instances, they’ll be more than equipped based on the quality of exposure that they have received to be able to do what’s necessary and potentially even exceed expectations being in that capacity. So that’s how we contribute to the struggle. We contribute —of course we have organizers all day. Organizers for life, if you will— but we make the contributions qualitatively through our teaching, which means we make a contribution in education, through journalism and through the arts.
Onyesowu Word. You truly wear many hats fighting for Pan-Africanism. Well, I think we all have to because the movement is so small right now. But it’s really interesting to me that, you know, you have that lineage with your father, of the connection to the African Revolution. But the place that you find yourself within it, you chose. Like, you made an active and conscious decision to become involved in something that was passed down to you.
Brother Obi Oh yeah. We say to people all the time, you know, the front line is for everyone. If people are functioning from this superficial narrative, that historical responsibility front-line responsibility only is reserved for the children of fighters. Wow, It would be even smaller than you’re saying it is right next to us on this front line must be the children of crackheads, the children of prostitutes, the children of bank robbers, the children of inmates, the children of construction workers, the children of bus drivers, the children’s of cooks, the children of police, the children of intelligence agents who are making a departure from that narrative, of course, thanks to quality exposure. So history obligates us all.
So it’s just that and it’s awkward because in my experiences, many of the people I’ve met who are children of fighters who of note, shall we say, fighters who got some visibility, many of them have an indifferent attitude towards the struggle. Many of them blame the struggle for taking away from them having a conventional lifestyle. And so, many of them struggle with that aspect and in the scheme of the collective decolonization process maybe that’s what they need to hurdle over before they find their way to this front line. So those of us who—- and I took on the challenge, you know? Because many of the people— and one thing I feel I was blessed for, this is one time that micro-nationalism, I think, worked in my advantage where many of our people who came across in early days, they were products of the amputated narrative of the collective African experience. So if it was outside of North America, It was secondary or irrelevant. So they didn’t know who my dad was anyway. So, many people found out about my father through my work, my contemporaries anyway. Some in his generation knew who he was. Some who were older than me knew who he was. And if they did know who he was, they didn’t even know I was connected to him. Then they found out, you know, after a while, they’re like, “Oh yeah, I mean, it’s the same name.” And for a long time, I wasn’t using junior either.
So many people, a significant portion of people —because I remember his celebration that we had after he transitioned on the same numerical day on the calendar as Amilcar Cabral January 20th, 2014, when we had the celebration for him the first week of March at Rankin Chapel at Harvard University, many of the people who came (and the place was filled), they came out of intellectual curiosity. Panthers in London, really? Another writer besides Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka? Oh, really? So they came out of curiosity, and then many of them were like, “We don’t necessarily know you per se, but we watch your work from a distance. We respect the consistency. So anyone who produced a fighter of this quality, we feel obligated to salute.” So many people in the United States never had a chance to have a conversation with him, never had a chance to have any qualitative engagement. So I feel proud that many people are going to have found out about him through me and are going to find out about him through me. And I feel that that’s the best tribute I could have ever paid to him.
Onyesowu I’m sure he would agree. I want to talk about— so you shared that story of your teacher trying to attempt you to attack Gaddafi as a homework assignment and you were sharing your family’s personal connection to him. And it made me think about how, even now in 2021, after everybody saw how the US invasion of Libya went, after everybody saw the consequences of that act, people are still slandering Gaddafi. Why do you think that is?
Brother Obi Well, you know the reason. First of all, when we do deal with Africa, what are we up against? Number one, we fight the narrative that Africa is a part of our glorious past and not a part of our present and our future. Number two, we fight against the narrative that says that West Africa is the only part of Africa that we should focus on. So we feel that it was very strategic by both the Reagan administration on April 15th, 1986, when they bombed Libya under the false pretense of Libya having something to do with the bombing of a disco in West Germany at the time. And then, of course, the Obama administration, in conjunction with the NATO alliance going for regime change using what the neocolonialist Arab Spring as the pretext to set up to do it.
We remember as college students, The Washington Post put out an article in the 90s that the neo colonialist leader in Kenya, Daniel arap Moi, was training anti-Gaddafi troops in Libya. So we knew that it was coming. We knew that they were planning for it. But we knew that, because of the sentiment of our people, even those who focus on Africa, they treated North Africa—they bought into the imperialist narrative that North Africa was not is not part of Africa, and it was predominantly because of the Arab presence in North Africa that they wouldn’t move on Africa.
And we remember when we were babies in struggle and we were part of the worldwide African anti-Zionist front, people said we were taking money from Colonel Gaddafi. As a matter of fact, at the founding conference that we had, there was a researcher, he’s no longer alive but he was a conspiracy theorist talking about the trilateral commission and that type of thing. His name was Steve Coakley. You may have heard of him. And he went around telling people that our conference was financed by the Libyans, and we had to approach him and say, “number one, we wish that was the case. Wouldn’t be a problem for us if that was the case. But we have to tell you that that information is completely false.” So we knew that they were people who did not make a distinction between the Arabs who invaded Africa before the Europeans. They did not feel the departure from that narrative from Arabs like Gamal Abdel Nasser, who saved Brother Malcolm’s life, who was Nkrumah’s closest ally, who was the second head of state to recognize the triumph of the Cuban revolution. They didn’t feel that he was genuine. They felt that that was politically motivated. So, Gaddafi being one of his proteges, Saddam Hussein being one of his proteges, a lot of people did not respect Gaddafi. They did not think that he was well intentioned. So when the Obama administration in conjunction with the NATO alliance attacked Libya militarily, many of them were Democrats in disguise so they weren’t going to go against the Obama administration anyway. So they conveniently became– started talking about Arab captivity of our ancestors. Arab dehumanization of our ancestors and comparing it to the Europeans using the Destruction of Black Civilization by Chancellor Williams to make the point. But forgetting about people like Ahmed Ben Bella and people and forgetting about the indigenous Africans that lived in Libya and lived in North Africa. So it was just convenient for them to do it.
But I can honestly tell you, as someone who did work around Libya, it was extremely challenging and we would see this narrative, how flawed it was, how people would use a narrative because beyond the antiquity of Africa, they could tell you what was going on in Africa three million years ago, but they couldn’t tell you what happened three minutes ago. And it is for that reason one of the things that we have been pushing for, we have been engaging the historian and urban anthropologist Tony Browder, since we both live in the D.C. area, for us to do a seminar for young people called “Africa yesterday, Africa Today, Africa tomorrow.” So for every time he mentions Ramasis, we mention Gamal Abdel Nasser. If he talks about Mansa Moussa, we can talk about Modibo Keita. If he talks about Yaa Asantewaa, we can talk about Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah so that we can show our people that Africa is part of our past, Africa is part of our present, Africa as part of our future. To quote the last line of Lift Every Voice and Sing, “Be true to our God and be true to our native land” And our native land ain’t Mississippi. Ain’t Alabama. Ain’t the Carolinas, ain’t Maryland, ain’t Panama, ain’t Jamaica. We all know what it is.
Onyesowu Oh, absolutely. I really appreciate the point you made. Well, first of all, the way imperialism weaponized the whole Arab Slave Trade narrative to turn African people against Gaddafi and against Libya to the extent that we don’t even recognize that Libya was a liberated zone in the Kwame Nkrumah sense of that term and that we lost that when the US and NATO invaded it overthrew him. We lost the last liberated zone in Africa and that’s still not — that has not hit for a lot of our people.
Brother Obi So it was partly that, but also the fact that Gaddafi was pushing for Africa to be socialist, too. So many in our community who are anti-socialist, they will use any excuse to attack anyone who is socialist. They are very sly with that one. And we will get into that a little bit later. But they— I don’t know why they think we are going to waver in socialism while we are going to compromise on that question. We love Africa so much, we want to share it with all Africans. We don’t want to keep it to ourselves.
Onyesowu Yup. The best possible future for Africa is one in which it is unified, liberated and socialist.
Brother Obi Mm hmm.
Onyesowu So actually, this brings us to another, for some reason, controversial figure within the worldwide Pan-African movement, at least in the West, which is Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. A man who has passed but who is still continuously slandered in the US media and also by some elements of the African left.
Brother Obi Oh, well, I mean, I’ll tell you what he told me in 2003. I had the honor and privilege of spending one hour in private with him. Once again, you know, we tie this into work. Let’s just go back and talk about how we got involved with Zanu-PF in the beginning. What ended up happening was we were paying very close attention not only to the land reclamation program, but something that happened before that, something called Operation Sovereign Legitimacy, where when you look at Operation Sovereign Legitimacy, you saw the Zimbabwe military in conjunction with the Namibian military, in conjunction with the Angolan military fight off an attempt by the former U.S. assistant secretary of State for African Affairs, Susan Rice at the time, working on the coordination of Madeleine Albright.
There was a plan to re-invade the Congo after Mobutu’s network was shown the door. And even though Mobutu was overthrown and would never be in charge of the Congo again, they were hoping that he, his network, would be put back in power. So it was the United States government in conjunction with Uganda, in conjunction with Burundi. And Namibia’s military, Zimbabwe’s military and Angola’s military fought them off. And at the time, Zimbabwe was overseeing the Southern African Development Communities Defense Forces. For people who don’t know what that is, The Southern African Development Community is the umbrella that all the Southern African nations fall under, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo had joined that network and they felt obligated to defend them. So they defended them bravely. They defended them efficiently. And that incurred the wrath of U.S. imperialism.
So you follow that up on the Land Reclamation Program that begins in 2000. And for your listeners who don’t know, President Mugabe was out of Zimbabwe at the G77 summit in Cuba. Let me use that, as this is Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s birthday today, to show how that illustrated the evolution of the African citizen. When Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown on February 24th, 1966, he was on the way to Vietnam to present a plan to end the Vietnam War. And it was when Lyndon Johnson realized that he was too far away from Ghana to come back and turn back the coup, they executed the coup against him, overthrowing him February 24th, 1966, a dark day in Ghana. So, a dark day in Africa. A dark day among our progressive and revolutionary circles worldwide. So 24 years later—36 years later, President Mugabe is in Cuba, he receives a contact he needs to come home; that this Land Reclamation Program was started when the Zimbabwe War Veterans Association started showing up on land that belonged to their ancestors, land that was occupied by commercial farmers of European ancestry, Rhodesian and British ancestry. Around 4000 of them occupying 70% of the country’s most agriculturally resourceful land. And when showing up, they politely said, “Leave my grandmother’s house, leave my great grandmother’s house, leave my great grandmother’s house.” And before you know it, the masses took this on, even with the leader of the revolutionary process outside of the country.
So then 2001 comes along and you have the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, which is the name of the sanctions that were imposed by the Bush administration, imposed through Bush in the White House, imposed by Colin Powell, who was the secretary of state at the time, pushed through the US Congress by Congressional Black Caucus member Donald Payne, his Republican counterpart Christopher Smith, and pushed through the Senate by Hillary Rodham Clinton, Russ Feingold and Joe Biden— in case those names sound familiar to you all— and a liberal congressman out of Vermont named Bernie Sanders, then a congressman, voted in favor of the sanctions on Zimbabwe. So through that process, they had said that President Mugabe was the most dangerous person in Africa.
What’s the significance of 2001? That happens to be the same year that you have the United Nations Conference on Racism Xenophobia and Other Related Intolerances, where what is commonly referred to as chattel slavery, the kidnaping of our ancestors, the Palestinian question and reparations, if they were to be brought up, the United States would boycott the meeting. What happens after that? So, Zimbabwe— the sanctions are imposed on them during the same time period. And the thing with it was the irony. The late congressman John Conyers is credited for his reparations bill, but he voted in favor of sanctions on Zimbabwe. As a matter of fact, every member of the Congressional Black Caucus voted against in favor of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, with the exception of a handful—The late Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio, Corrine Brown in Florida, Cynthia McKinney in Georgia, Carolyn Kilpatrick in Michigan, the mother of the former mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick, and Bobby Rush, the second recruit of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party.
The only problem with that, sister, is that none of them voted against the sanctions. They just abstained from voting. So in our humble opinion, that represented that it was very similar to the Europeans who were at the lynching parties. They didn’t put, uh, they didn’t set us on fire. They didn’t punch and kick us. They didn’t break our bones. They didn’t put the noose around our neck, but they sat out there and watched the process take place. Which means that it had their blessing, which means that it represented their sentiments and aspirations. So that’s how we dealt with that.
So by the time we started organizing forums for the Zimbabwean ambassador at the time, Dr. Sandy Mubarak. And so between 2002 and 2003, we had organized forums for him at Bowie State University, Howard University, Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina. He went to Alabama, he went to Chicago, he went to California. He’d went to Virginia. He’d went to Atlanta, meeting elected officials, meeting with journalists, meeting with clergy who all said that they supported the Land Reclamation Program. Because let us remember when reparations was originally introduced to us, whether your point of reference is 1928, the Africans in the Communist Party who were receiving support from Stalin in Russia to push five states in the South. Whether you were talking about the efforts of the PGR and a provisional government of the Republic of New Africa, the New African People’s Organization, N’Cobra, the original focus was on land in the original focus was on self-determination that Africans in the United States should have some land in this country so they can repay or go through repair, go through what we call decolonization from years of dehumanization, years of first rate exploitation from the imperialists and capitalists within North American borders. So that in itself made the Zimbabwe issue really resonate.
And it also resonated because the great Madiba Nelson Mandela at that time, he, you know, he’d been in, he’d been in power. He was about to step down so that Thabo Mbeki could take hold of things. But those who know the history of the African National Congress know they never pushed the land question. So understanding that the country right next door to them separated by the Limpopo River was now making the issue of land on the African continent, raising the bar on decolonization, raising the bar on redemption, that’s what made President Mugabe dangerous. And then not only that, but they had other attributes to flaunt, as this is Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah birthday and we recognize that in a 9 year period, he created 68 factories in Ghana: a tire factory, a cocoa factory, a manganese factory, a bicycle factory. The roads of Ghana were better than the roads of Britain, creating the first hydroelectric dam in modern African history, the Akosombo, which not only kept Ghana with lights and electricity but provided little electricity to Togo and Benin. So just the fact that he was able to do that in a 9 year period, it shattered the myth that he had a utopian concept of a unified socialist Africa, but at the same time was negligent to Ghana. Obviously, that type of qualitative empowerment, qualitative infrastructure development will shatter that false narrative there. And in that same vein, when Zimbabwe was put under sanctions, they had a 97% literacy rate, the highest on the African continent. They had the most effective net rollout program to combat malaria in Southern Africa. The most effective cholera tracking system in Southern Africa. The most significant decline of HIV aids cases in Southern Africa. The best roads in Southern Africa. So when this was going on, we recognized that it would be hard for them to demonize Zimbabwe because during that time period, they had done right by their people.
And the only issue they hadn’t dealt with was land. And that was because of the diplomatic compromise, the Lancaster House negotiations in 1979, where both liberation movements, the Zimbabwe African National Union and its precursor the Zimbabwe African People’s Union led by Father Zimbabwe Joshua Nkomo, they made an agreement with the Thatcher administration and the Carter administration that between 1980 and 1990, $5 billion would be put up for the products of the colonial reality of British and Rhodesian ancestry to be able to relocate. They could relocate to one house or one apartment or one flat or one condo, whatever their setup would be, but they would not have a farm half the size of the 10 provinces in Zimbabwe. Those days were over. So the British administration honored the overture. Thatcher did. John Major did. But the bad imitation of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, let it be known he would pursue regime change. And then on the United States side, Reagan defeating Carter in the 1980 election let the Zimbabwean government. No, he would not honor the agreement. And of course, if you know Reagan’s history as a Democrat
governor of California, making the destruction of the Black Panther Party for self-defense objective number one. And during his days as an average actor in Hollywood, he was the rat for J. Edgar Hoover telling him, giving him dossiers on actors and actresses and producers and directors and screenwriters who he felt had ties to the Communist Party USA.
So coming from that background and having that narrative, having that type of ideological direction when he saw Zanu, when he saw his APU, he obviously thought about the Panthers. He thought about African resistance inside North American borders. So because of that type of background, we felt obligated to defend Zimbabwe. And for us, it was an extension of our work with the African National Congress, with the Pan-Africanist Congress and with the Black Consciousness movement of Azania/Osogbo. So of course, we know we had to consolidate that whole region because growing up in D.C., D.C. has a very— chronologically speaking— has a very special connection to the Southern region of Africa. Mozambique gets its independence in ‘74, Angola gets its independence in ‘75, Zimbabwe gets its independence in 1980. Namibia gets its independence in 1990. What’s called South Africa gets its independence in 1994, the last part of Africa to get rid of settler colonialism. D.C. doesn’t have its first election for mayor, democratic election for mayor ‘til 1978, 13 years after the Voting Rights Act. So based on the way we were treated in Congress and understanding that this is the backyard of the CIA, this is the backyard of the Pentagon, his is the backyard of the ATF, this is the backyard of the DEA. This is the police capital of the world and the intelligence capital of the world, the imperialist surveillance capital of the world. We could relate to what it was like to live under the German colonialists in Namibia or the Portuguese colonialists in Angola and Mozambique, or the Rhodesian colonialists in Zambia and Zimbabwe. So we once again felt we had an obligation to stand up and defend Zimbabwe no matter who would put us on a collision course with in our community.
Onyesowu I mean, absolutely, it sounds like you made 100% the correct move, and it’s very interesting to see– not Interesting— but, I think I hope that people can see the connections here. Like, for example, Kwame Nkrumah was deposed in the CIA-backed coup, and they made all kinds of accusations of him being a dictator, of him neglecting Ghana, like you already mentioned, which is clearly not the case. The same thing happened to Mugabe. As soon as, you know, the people of Zimbabwe moved to take their land back, that is when the West attacked and —
Brother Obi And even before that, if we look at The Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare, as you so brilliantly mentioned earlier, protecting the neighbor. So Zimbabwe goes to the Congo, but that’d be nothing new for them because immediately after they fought, because as we know, they had two main installations. They got some training in Tanzania. But the two main military guerrilla installations were in Zambia, thanks to Kenneth Kaunda and in Mozambique under Samora Machel. But immediately after they left Mozambique, after the armed struggle was over and the diplomatic aspect of things began and they gained independence with the rise of the CIA mercenaries in Renamo in Mozambique, President Mugabe had to deploy 50,000 guerrilla fighters who had not even gotten a chance to get reacclimated to a stable life as an independent African. They had to go right back into Mozambique and defend Mozambique, and we can’t, on Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah’s birthday, we have to say what you represent when he says the best way to measure the degree of a country’s revolutionary awareness is by the political maturity of the women.
What does that have to do with Zimbabwe? During President Mugabe’s days as a young man, he spent time in Takoradi, Ghana. Teaching at St Mary’s College, but he left Ghana to join the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe. But he didn’t go alone. He went with a beautiful African woman who was driven by Nkrumah’s speech on the eve of independence that the independence of Ghana was meaningless unless it was linked to the independence of the entire African continent. We’re talking about none other than Amai Sally Mugabe, who was President Mugabe’s first wife, who is credited with being very central in the organizing of women during the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe.
For those of you who don’t know Zimbabwean history, he gave a speech and was snatched off the streets. He didn’t even have a trial like Madiba Nelson Mandela did in a kangaroo court, in a colonialist imperialist court. They just put him in prison for 11 years. And when their only son died of malaria, he wasn’t able to get out of prison. And she couldn’t go to the funeral either because the Rhodesians who put a hit out on her. She was the one that developed the strategy of using incarcerated freedom fighters, what we call the political prisoner movement in this country. Whenever the central committee members of Zanu-PF went to prison, she went canvasing all over the world to get them released, showing people they were not terrorists as the imperialists would say, as the colonial will say—they were freedom fighters.
Many of you know that on June 16th, of course, we commemorate Soweto, but since 1992, we have been celebrating the Day of the African Child on the African continent to deal with the challenges of our children, the plight of our children, the aggressive steps we are going to take to liberate our children, empower our children. This comes from a conference that Amai Sally Mugabe organized in Zimbabwe in 1982, which was a conference dealing with the role of the child and the decolonization process. And she targeted children, African children whose mothers were prostitutes, African children who had HIV aids, malaria, leprosy and other deadly diseases. What would we do with our resources to deal with the full redemption of the African child and because of her laying the foundation for that work— she passes away in 1992, but because of that work, it lays the foundation for us celebrating the Day of the African Child. And in the spirit of Pan-Africanism that we fight for, we are calling on our people every year starting next year, let us celebrate the Day of the African Child and Juneteenth together. Let us do away with the amputated narrative of the collective African experience.
So when you talk about Mama Winnie Mandela, don’t downplay the role of Amai Sally Mugabe, a Ghanian born African who went to Zimbabwe and got in the trenches with the Zimbabwean people. The same way we appreciate Samora Machel’s first wife, Josina Machel, who was the first woman to go through gorilla training in FRELIMO. In the same way that we appreciate Mama Elizabeth Sibeko, the first member of PAIGC’s military wing to go through gorilla training. So having a chance to —- and then when we had a chance to– engage President Mugabe, I can’t tell you what a thrill that was. And for the first time, I could relate to what Kwame Ture was talking about when he told us how he was in the company of Ho Chi Minh, when he went to when SNCC went to see him in Illinois, or how he was when he was in the company of Osagyefo, Dr Kwame Nkrumah and army secretary for the first time when he went to Conakry, Guinea in 1967. So just sitting there and he immediately just started the meeting talking, and he said he only had one criticism of U.S. born Africans when it came to how they analyze developments in Africa. He said We pay too much attention— he said we had a very adventurist analysis of developments on the continent. He said we pay too much attention to coups and we pay too much attention to assassinations. But we need to begin to pay attention to the methodology to isolate a country making them vulnerable to a coup and vulnerable to an assassination. And he said, when we made that quantum leap and how we dealt with African developments, we could change U.S/Africa, U.S./EU/ Africa policy, which we know is genocidal, which we know is fascist, which we know as terrorist, which we know as white supremacist. And then the next thing that he talked to us about is he said that the biggest mistake that the United States/ European Union is making on the Zimbabwean question is they’re looking at the fact that the old guard of the leaders who represented what we call the frontline states. So he said Chissano was retiring in Mozambique. Kaunda was retiring in Zambia, Mpaka was retiring in Tanzania. Mandela had retired in South Africa. So he felt that they thought that these new leaders, who they felt, based on their intelligence, based on their diplomatic reports, based on the State Department’s read, based on the U.S. Institute of Peace’s read, that’s the most powerful think tank in this country, for people who don’t know what that is. That these new set of leaders would be moderate in comparison to their predecessors. But he said that’s the mistake they’re making. They underestimate the bond that we have.
And we saw many examples of this. So in 2006, when I went to Zimbabwe, I wasn’t even there a week, and the president of Malawi at the time, he said that they were going to name their —The EU was there doing a refurbishing project of the roads. Malawi had the worst roads in Southern Africa. So the president of Malawi at the time, he said that they were going to name the road in honor of Robert Mugabe and the West said if they do that they would pull out of the project. And he told them very calmly, he said, “in African tradition, We don’t disinvite a guest once they’ve been invited. If anything, we disinvite those who’ve invited themselves.” And where the United States either forgot to take into consideration or was just ignorant of, President Mugabe’s father is Malawian, his mother is Zimbabwean, even though he was born in Zimbabwe in 1924. So they were just honoring one of their own. Of course, he’s an African, so all Africa belongs to him. But he had a specific bloodline and blood tie to Malawi.
The second example we saw of this was they had told Botswana to —because every year Zimbabwe has an agricultural festival in the summertime here and a head of state from one of the neighboring countries comes to officially open the agricultural fest. And the purpose of that is just to reinforce Zimbabwe’s commitment to agricultural empowerment in Southern Africa. Because for your listeners who may not know, 67% of the workforce in Southern Africa, their work is tied to the agro-economy. So Zimbabwe strategically does this every year. So the president of Botswana was told to not attend, to boycott the event. Not only did he come, he reaffirmed Botswana’s commitment to the Land Reclamation Process, and he condemned the sanctions. What they didn’t know or once again refused to put into proper context was that Zimbabwe helped write Botswana’s constitution when Botswana got its independence and became a sovereign nation.
Then in 2007, the EU/Africa Summit was in Portugal and Gordon Brown had replaced Tony Blair and he just blurted out, “Oh, if Mugabe is coming to come and I’m not coming.” And all of the Southern African leaders said, “if Mugabe doesn’t come, we’re not coming. How can you have a summit with Africa and the whole Southern region is not in attendance?” They were angry when it was Zimbabwe’s turn to chair the Southern African Development Community. In 2014 and in 2015 they chair the African Union. And in the 21st century, the Tanzanian president when they chaired the A.U., the Malawian in president when it was their turn to chair, the A.U., the Namibians when it was their turn to chair, the A.U., they made the African Union come out and say that the sanctions against Zimbabwe should be lifted. And those sanctions have been in place for 10 years. And like we said, when we went over the attributes they’ve impacted on those things. Zimbabwe used to have the best roads in and Southern Africa. Some people would say in all of Africa. But now the joke is, “the way you can tell someone’s intoxicated while driving is they’re driving straight because you have to zigzag all of the potholes.” The public works system is severely compromised. They’ve been times where doctors and nurses were not paid on time. And the regime change agents in Zimbabwe were trying to exploit this.
In addition to the sanctions, in addition to the regime change agenda, when we say that we want to be specific, in Zambia they forced a regime change through elections through the Movement for Multiparty Democracy. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which is Britain in the United States, gave them money to get started. So Zimbabwe was the grand prize. So they started what was called the Movement for Democratic Change in 1999, and it was through this process that Morgan Tsvangirai, who was then the leader of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unionist, was told by the West to leave the trade union and to go into starting MDC full time. And ever since then, MDC has been full time working for regime change in Zimbabwe. That’s in addition to the 400 civil society groups you have in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has more civil society groups than any country on the African continent. Three hundred and fifty of them belong to what’s called the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, and that’s financed by the Open Society Foundation led by George Soros, of course. And then 36 of them get money from the National Democratic Institute under the leadership of Madeleine Albright. And then the other 14 get their money from the National Endowment for Democracy. And what ended up happening is right in this time period when we decided we were going to really invest in the Zimbabwe issue because we felt obligated to do so, we ended up having a clash with the infamous TransAfrica Forum, best known for their anti-apartheid work. To be precise, their ‘African National Congress support work’, because where we work with the ANC / Osogbo, alike, a very significant contingent of radical moderates, if we want to call them that, um, they kind of were partial to the African National Congress and what have you. So when they began to attack Zimbabwe, what we discovered is something was created called the Zimbabwe Solidarity Fund. And through this process, those 14 civil society groups were getting money from the National Endowment for Democracy. And we found out that the TransAfrica Forum and another group called the Priority for Africa Network and Africa Action were the bag people they were. They were the bag women and bag men. They were taking this. They were funneling this money to those groups. So when we exposed that publicly, all hell broke loose and people based on sentimentality were like, “You were going against Belafonte, you’re going against Randall Robinson, you’re going against Danny Glover.” And the other positive thing about that is it gave us a chance to truly put in context the anti-apartheid movement in this country because TransAfrica Forum, for a very long time, would tell people that they started the anti-apartheid movement in this country. And the reality of the situation is the organization didn’t start until 1977. What does that say about the Council of African Affairs that Paul Robeson and Dubois led that had correspondence with the ANC way back then? What does that say about the demonstrations that the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organized in front of these South African consulates, both in New York and Washington, D.C., and what they did in front Chase Manhattan Bank? What does that say about the conference in 1968, when James Forman coordinated what was left of SNCC to go there, where there was a conference where they were discussing the parallels between segregation, colonialism and apartheid? What does that say about our grassroots organizations? What does that say about John Carlos and Tommie Smith, who held up the fist for Black Power in Mexico City? And if you know about the organized resistance that led to that effort, they were calling for Avery Brundage to be removed as the chairman of the International Olympic Committee because of his support for apartheid South Africa and apartheid Rhodesia. So these were things that we were able to bring to the attention of our people, and we exposed TransAfrica and exposed the Africa Action and the Priority for African Network. And we realized that ever since we’ve been doing the Zimbabwe work, there has been — Zimbabwe is attacked just as much on the left just as they are on the right.
Onyesowu I’ve been thinking about the criticism the comrade gave y’all or shared with y’all about how Africans based in the United States tend to engage African history in both an idealistic and adventurist way, meaning that we tend to romanticize pre-colonial African history and flatten out the class contradictions that existed even then. And in the modern day, because we have that idealistic and romanticized version of pre-colonial African history, when liberated African states emerge, we do not support them. We do not back them. We watch them be attacked and we sometimes justify it. That’s what happened with Mugabe, it’s happening in Ethiopia right now.
Brother Obi Exactly and Eritrea. But the thing about it is the irony was a few— About a year and a half ago, there was a rumor circulating in corporate media that President Mugabe’s replacement, Martin Guagua, was giving the land back to the Europeans, and the Zimbabweans had to come forward and explain that. First of all, one of the compromises with the Commercial Farmers Union was that they would be compensated for anything they’d built on the land. And the reason that Zimbabwe felt obligated to do that, which was the decision made by the Southern African Development Community. They were presenting it as a land grab. They said we were just showing up on the land, slaughtering Europeans, just slaughtering white folks. Imagine that image in the heads of people because as a matter of fact, there was a progressive liberal friend of mine named Fred Mills in Washington, D.C., who was a professor at Bowie State University. And he, you know, he had been helping us push for Bowie State University to become the first HBCU in 2000 to have a cultural exchange program with Cuba. And so one day in a side conversation, he comes up to me and he said, “So what do you think about the land seizure in Zimbabwe?” So, you know, of course, you know, you answer things based on your outlook on history; your ideological foundation. So I said, “what made you bring up Cecil Rhodes? What made you bring up Geoffrey Huggins? What made you bring up Ian Smith? This is 2000. Why are you talking about them?” And he said, “No, I was talking about what the Zimbabwean government did.” And I said, “You can’t. You used the word ‘seizure’. Zimbabweans can’t seize Zimbabwe from the British and Rhodesians. It belongs to them. Palestinians can seize Palestine from Golda Meir or Yitzhak Rabin or Menachem Begin or David Ben-Gurion that belongs to them, inherently. China— Mao Tse Tung didn’t seize China from the British, he reclaimed it. Gandhi didn’t seize India from the British, he reclaimed it.”
So this— so just that. And a lot of times we know one of the things about the white liberals that claim to be progressive is they’re trying, they’re going through redemption too. We have to remind them when they are being casually racist.. And so after he heard us explain it, he apologized. So like we said— I mean, you know, and then it became a thing where a few years later, the head of Virgin Airlines, the corporate mogul Sir Richard Branson, he’s been working for a regime change in Zimbabwe because he feels would regime change in a neocolonialist MDC, he would take control of the tourism industry. As a matter of fact. Jesse Helms was working in conjunction with R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris, the tobacco conglomerates in this country, to help Bishop Abel Mazari Rewa, the neocolonialist preacher who was working to undermine Zanu and Zapu during the Chimurenga, the armed struggle that lasted for 14 years. They told him they could position him to be the leader of Zimbabwe, but in return he would have to give them control of the tobacco industry.
So Philip Morris is working for regime change in Zimbabwe. R.J. Reynolds is working for regime change in Zimbabwe, and Virgin Airlines is working for regime change in Zimbabwe. So what ended up happening is Sir Richard Branson put up $36 million to create a group called The Elders Group. Madiba Nelson Mandela was part of it. Graça Machel was part of it. Kofi Annan, the former secretary general to the U.N., was part of it. Jimmy Carter was part of it. And they tried to force their way into Zimbabwe at the end of 2008. But they were told. And they said they were there on a “fact finding” mission and Zimbabwe laughed in their face. They went to Graça Machel and said, “We saved your life. When the Portuguese were trying to wipe you out, what fact-finding mission do you need on us?” They went to Mandela and said, “You know, we’ve been real patient with you, real diplomatic with you despite your insults, despite your antagonism. Don’t forget who paved the way for you. Much blood was shed for you in Zimbabwe. Much blood was shed for you in Mozambique. Much blood was said for you in Namibia. And we never judged you for not taking up arms to defend what is inherently yours. We did that, and this is how you repay us? You show up with these people supporting regime change in Zimbabwe? Shame on you.”
Kofi Annan had just said a few years before, when he was being pushed to go to Zimbabwe, he said that there is no international crisis in Zimbabwe. “After speaking with President Mugabe, it’s an unresolved bilateral dispute between an independent sovereign country and its former colonizer.” That was the conclusion he came to. But all of a sudden he had forgotten that. And then the rock star Peter Gabriel raised another $36 million for this Elder’s Group, and they made their first project trying to bring about a regime change in Zimbabwe. So to our brothers and sisters who may have jobs working for Philip Morris, who may have jobs working for R.J. Reynolds (be you a janitor, be you a cook, be you a corporate, be you an executive because you are corporate now) this is all we ask you, if you happen to come across some memos about their plans to bring about regime change in Zimbabwe moving forward, be like those domestic workers were during the Montgomery bus boycott. You smile in their face, but you come back and tell us what’s happening so we can move appropriately. We’re not asking you to do any organizing. That might not be part of your sentiment anymore. You may not be in touch with your African fighting spirit right now, but if you ever appreciated the bloodshed, if you ever appreciated the selflessness, if you ever appreciated the sacrifice that the frontline of struggle represents, come back and holler at us if you see something that looks foul as you are working for them.
So these are just a few of the things that have gone on, and in addition to the fact that the sanctions on Zimbabwe have already reached a point that’s cost them $50 billion where we know that as the blockade on Cuba is approaching 60 years, it has cost them nearly $150 billion dollars. So at the— then the fact that the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, listeners, has been in existence for 20 years, but Zimbabwe is only 41 years as a nation. That means that almost 50% of their time as an independent sovereign nation they’ve been subjected to these devastating terroristic diplomatic sanctions.
Onyesowu Punishment for taking their land back. And even that deal they made with Great Britain for the five million or billion for relocation– like that was— they didn’t have to do that the way that land was stolen was by force.
Brother Obi Mmm hmm. No, they weren’t. They weren’t going to compensate them. But the British and the U.S. were supposed to put that up. But I’m glad you brought that up because the initial white supremacist overture is they should put the money up. And they laughed and said, “We’re going to put up what you put up when you came and took it.” So then Britain and the United States said that they would do it. So yeah, everything that they’ve been subjected to and just the fact that they just continue to be strong, I mean, their story inspires us and that’s why we continue to stand with them. And we’re always looking to practical ways that we can do things to help them. And as an organizer, we’re always privileged when we’re, as organizers, when you’re interviewed by an organizer. Can we please highlight some of the work that we’ve done?
Onyesowu Of course, please do.
Brother Obi No, because you already know, my sister, you have people come and talk about the issue and give the impression they are experts on it, but they never talk about the practical stuff they’ve done. So, you know, that’d be sinful if we come on your platform and don’t do that.
So like we said, another issue they had is— this is what we call guerilla diplomacy. Um, even though the overwhelming majority of the Black Caucus voted in favor of sanctions on Zimbabwe, President Mugabe still invited them to observe the 2002 presidential elections. And if anybody knows anything about the Congressional Black Caucus, you know that they don’t turn down photo ops and they don’t turn down trips. But for whatever reason, they didn’t take that trip. So who ended up going into a place was the NAACP. And the NAACP wrote in a beautiful report about the Zimbabwean elections in 2002, which was supported by the African Union and was supported by the Southern African Development Community. And Zimbabwe did that because they refused to invite the Carter Center. They refused to invite the National Democratic Institute. They refused to invite the International Republican Institute. They refused to invite the National Endowment for Democracy.
For your listeners who don’t know, the National Democratic Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy and the International Republican Institute are born in 1983, after Reagan gives a speech to European Union’s parliaments saying that in this Cold War the key would be establishing think tanks that would help them with their propaganda. So people have to understand that. So Zimbabwe refused to let them observe the elections. So, when the NAACP arrived back in D.C., they were summoned to the State Department. We don’t know what ensued in that meeting, but they decided not to publish their report. Not only did they not publish their report, sister, but they wouldn’t give Zimbabwe a copy; their hosts. What type of gratitude is that? You know that it was a problem. So eventually we had some behind closed doors conversations with the NAACP and the report got back to Zimbabwe. And when we had a chance to see President Mugabe, the first thing he did is thank us for that. Then after that, you know like we said, we’d already been moving them around the country and facilitating meetings with state legislators and mayors and clergy and what have you. But then the first piece of work we did is when we went back to Zimbabwe, we found out that as a vindictive act— because Zimbabwe had to create a national AIDS levy which was to set up taxing of corporations and government, putting aside a stipend for the Health Ministry to be able to deal with the HIV aids pandemic. If you know the landscape of Africa, you know the Southern Africa is the most compromised region. Zimbabwe, because of this levy, has had the most significant HIV aids decline in Southern Africa. So the United States and Britain and the European Union countered by using the Global Fund for HIV AIDS and Tuberculosis to deny Zimbabwe’s applications in the second round, the third round, the fourth round, and in the sixth round. And a European woman named Carol Bellamy, who was the director of UNICEF, condemned this at the United Nations and called it “persecution of the poor.”
So we came up with a resolution that a board member of the National Medical Association, our good friend, Dr. Lucille Norvill Perez, signed, who was the first NMA president to go to Cuba. We had Bishop George Stallings of the African-American Catholic Imani Temple sign on to it. We had Abdul Ali Mohammed, who was the director of Health and Human Services for the Nation of Islam at the time and many key other people in the health field and the church community sign on to it because of the nature of that work. So that was the first thing that we did.
And then a few years after that, we did an appeal to the Obama administration, calling for the lifting of sanctions which had the most broad representation of Africans throughout the Diaspora that were against the sanctions. Why were we aggressive with the Obama administration? Because for those of you who know Obama’s history, you noted before he became the president of the United States, he was the lowest ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, while Biden was the chair who, as we said earlier, was a co-sponsor of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act. So in 2006, Senator Obama writes President Bush a letter saying, “Don’t lift the sanctions on Zimbabwe until the dark cloud of Mugabe and Zanu Piaf have been ousted from power.” So in the 8 years that he was president, every March he signed into executive order to support extension of the sanctions on Zimbabwe, for those of you who did not know that. So for those of you who think that President Obama was different than Bush, different than Trump, different than Biden on the question of Zimbabwe, you have the evidence that shows and we’re talking facts here, scientific facts, irrefutable facts. So this is what we were dealing with at the time.
We, in 2005, we recognized that they were going all out. And when they go for regime change on you, do not downplay the role of media and art. For those of you who know Zimbabwe’s history, you know, they had a special guest on April 18th, 1980 in Rufaro stadium. His name was Bob Marley. Who paid for his own equipment to be flown to Zimbabwe and perform for free? For those of you who do not know, the Zimbabweans went and told him, “Bob, we want you to come and we heard that song. It will only be right if you play it in Zimbabwe as our flag goes up for the first time” and they say, “Hey man, but we ain’t got the cash to pay your band. And you know, we heard you got a mandate about your equipment and we all got it. We’re strapped. Matter of fact, we haven’t even gone through the transfer of monies yet. That’s the process we’re going through diplomatically.” Bob said, “How can I make this song and not be there for you? Man, meh ah pay fi that.” You know? And he financed the moving of his equipment there. The only thing he wanted to know is if they had engineers who could properly install the equipment because you know how particular musicians are about their sound.
The imperialists knowing this purposely got his son, Damian Jr Gong Marley and one of the greatest emcees in hip hop to ever walk the Earth, Nas, to do a song called Road To Zion, and Nas’s lyrics are, “President Mugabe turning guns on the people of Zimbabwe doing ish that would make the pope seem godly.” And when he was approached about this, he said that he was only going by what he read in the New York Times. So we realized we had to do something. So right around his time period, we had met Mutulu Olubadan, also known as M-1 of the internationally acclaimed hip hop group, Dead Prez. Our comrades in every sense of the word. And he told us that he wanted to do something about that, and we said sure. So it took a couple of years for us to get together. But when we finally put our heads together, we produced three albums of music within a three year period called The Battleground for Cuba and Zimbabwe Project, where all the music is calling for the lifting of sanctions on Zimbabwe and the blockade of Cuba. Over 100 songs of multi-genre cross-generational music. The gospel? Part of it. Hip hop? Part of it. Reggae? Part of it. Jazz? Part of it. Blues? Part of it. R&B? Part of it. Never been done, never done before. So we just felt— and we were motivated by Ahmed Sekou Toure, who, as this is Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah birthday, when Nkrumah was overthrown, he put his presidency on the line by not just bringing Nkrumah there to have asylum, but making him the co-president of Guinea and was willing to step down so Nkrumah could preside over Guinea. And he said, “to be part of the African Revolution it’s not enough to write a revolutionary song, you must fashion the songs with the people and the songs will come of themselves and by themselves.” So for artists who make music, that is definitely part of the decolonization process, but they’re too busy to get in the trenches with us, or they function from the superficial disposition that they’re doing us a favor. This is all the more reason to embrace artists like M-1 from Dead Prez who helped us put that project together and was responsible for so many artists being part of that.
So this was some of the work we did, as we told you, we’re children’s playwrights.
We’ve done three plays on Zimbabwe. We did a play about Sally Mugabe called Sally Mugabe Lives Forever. We did a play called The Yinga Yinga and the Bush. In The English language it is how you say ‘swallow bird’ in Shona. And that is about the life of Josiah Magama Tongogara and Josiah Magama Tongogara was a guerrilla fighter par excellence. Before he fought with Xinyu as a guerrilla, he fought with– he was involved with UNIP (The United National Independence Party) in Zambia. And he fought as a guerrilla, a Zimbabwean guerrilla who fought with FRELIMO in Mozambique before Zappa’s, Zanu-PF’s armed wing was created. And he was the executor of the guerrilla warfare. And Zimbabwe defeated the second most powerful colonial army ever assembled on the African continent. So Zimbabwe did to the British and Rhodesians is equivalent to what the Vietnamese did to the United States; Won a war that no one gave them a chance to win. So we did a play with Tongogara. It was supervised by his lawyer, ambassador Sandy Mubarak, and his daughter, his youngest daughter, who he never got to meet because his wife, was pregnant with her when we lost him the first day of Kwanzaa in 1979, on the way back to Zimbabwe after the guerillas closed up their camp to begin the negotiation process. The Great Tongogara . And as Thomas Sankara has experienced a reintroduction where we love him and we’re celebrating him, we say in terms of history, Tongogara is next on the list. And he was a guerrilla fighter and he was one of the strongest advocates for Zimbabwe being socialist once everything was finalized. So his history in the scheme of Southern African politics should never be forgotten. He was a great one.
And then we did another play about The Heroes Acre, and this is my favorite place in Zimbabwe. I love it more than the Mosi-oa-Tunya, which is the African name for Victoria Falls, which means in Shona ‘the smoke that Thunders’. I love it more than the Monomotapa, which you call the Great Zimbabwe. It is the place where all the great freedom fighters are buried– their remains. So we wrote a play about the Heroes Acre. So those are the things, in a nutshell, those are the things that we have done for Zimbabwe during this time that they’ve been under sanctions. So we haven’t just been going around calling for the ending of sanctions. We’ve been involved in organized activity to create the atmosphere for the sanctions to be lifted.
Onyesowu Absolutely. Thank you so much. I want to start to wrap up the interview, and I wanted to close by asking you, what would you recommend people study to learn the truth about Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe?
Brother Obi Um, I would say that since you have YouTube listen to as many of his speeches as you can. Um, a lot. Get in touch with the Southern African Research Documentation Center, run by Phyllis Johnson. Her and her late husband, David Martin, are British citizens, Check this out, who left Britain as an act of protest because of Britain’s Africa policy and ended up both— because of their journalism background— setting up a research and documentation center and giving all the liberation movements in Southern Africa an opportunity to publish propaganda in their own words, a little different than what Basil Davidson did. And get in contact with the Southern African Research Documentation Center and see how much information that you can get your hands on. The last thing that they put out a few years ago was Mugabe in ‘90, and it chronicled in photographs his experience. If you can get your hands on any of his United Nations speeches, if you can watch and listen to them, look at those. If you can get your hands on the speech he gave in Venezuela when he received the Bolívar award, which is patterned after the Martí Award, if you can get your hands on the speech that he gave in Cuba when he was the second recipient of the Martí Award before Madiba Nelson Mandela and right after Thomas Sankara, that would do you good. So get your hands on as many of his speeches and interviews as you can.
What I will also urge— this was another one of our activities— we are honored to say that we have helped introduce in this country the epic film done by the Guinean filmmaker, British London born Guinean filmmaker Comrade Roy Agyemang who did a brilliant film called Mugabe Villain or Hero, you can watch that on YouTube, and chronicles everything they went through from Operation Sovereign Legitimacy with the help in the DRC, the land reclamation program, and you just listening to him in his own words and other leaders of the revolution in their own words, what they’ve done. So get in touch with the Southern African Documentation Center. Start going to www.herald.co.cw so you can get the daily news on Zimbabwe. But as they told me, read the enemy’s narrative as well. So pay attention to The Zimbabwean, which is run by family that were intelligence agents for the Rhodesians during the liberation struggle. Take a look at the Mail Guardian, which is run out of South Africa by a guy named Trevor Ncube. Take a look at the Financial Gazette. Take a look at the Zimbabwe Independent. Take a look at the other papers who seek to demonize the ruling party so you can get an idea and then take a look at how The Herald attempts to contextualize those issues. If you feel, you can just type in Obi Egbuna, my name, on Zimbabwe and you’ll get a chance to take a look at the articles, which is a small —which has played a small role in that process.
However, when we went to the U.S. Institute of Peace, when the British think tank Chatham House came there to do their report. Johnny Carson, who was Obama’s assistant secretary on African affairs and was Clinton’s ambassador to Zimbabwe during his second administration, who is the highest ranking African to be part of the Strategic Defense Command, which is an installation of the CIA that gives them the temperature on countries they are attempting to invade or stage a coup, said that Zimbabwe is winning the war because of a group of ragtag journalists. And these ragtag journalists are— he was talking about, obviously, us. He was talking about a brother named [inaudible], a comrade. He was talking about Milton Almadi and the Black Star News. He was talking about Baffour Ankomah on The New African Magazine. And those of us who have been the unofficial, well in my case I write for the national newspapers so I’m the U.S. correspondent, officially. But in the broader scheme of things, we are the Zimbabwe Solidarity and Comraderie Press Corps. And so we have helped fight back the Voice of America Studio 7, which is a station dedicated to demonizing Zimbabwe. We have fought back against BBC, fought back against ABC, fought back against CNN. And as the late diplomat, former minister of information and publicity and Zimbabwe ambassador to the U.N., both in Geneva and in New York, Tichaona Jokonya, who opened up Zimbabwe to us, who arranged for us to write for The Herald, he was the one who said that information as the first line of defense and Zimbabwe must fight imperialism in the information arena with the same fervor and tenacity that they fought them as guerrillas in the bush.
Onyesowu Thank you so much, Obi. I learn so much every time I talk to you. I deeply appreciate you.
Brother Obi and likewise, not only do we learn from you, but we gain inspiration from you. And for those of you who want to begin to have memorandums of understanding with the Zimbabwe Ministry of Media Information and Broadcasting Services, we will introduce you to the embassy to facilitate that process because that time has come. I mean, the gloves are off and the dirtier they get, the more courageous we must get.